Country focus: Making science work for the youth of Turkey
Stimulating and harnessing the scientific imagination of young people is the dream of Assistant Professor Murat Cakan. Although he teaches at the prestigious Istanbul Technical University (ITU), it’s his second job as Director of the University Science Centre that really interested us.
Launched in 2007 to make scientific knowledge more accessible to young people, the Centre has enjoyed some success – but, says Murat, it should be enjoying a lot more. When inGenious recently interviewed Murat in Istanbul, we discussed the challenges of STEM education in Turkey and the steps that are being taken to overcome them.
“About 20 thousand pupils visit our Centre each year,” observed Murat. “That’s not enough, considering that 12 out of the 75 million Turkish people live in Istanbul. We aim to reach at least 200,000 visitors per year,” he added.
o How do you plan to achieve your target?
“We try to attract youngsters by blending straight scientific facts with a fun approach: from optical illusions to theatre performances – and even birthday parties. The ITU has been in Istanbul since 1773 and we strongly believe it is our social responsibility to give young people new horizons through scientific knowledge. For instance, with the support of TÜBİTAK (Scientific and Technological Research Council of Turkey) we can invite underprivileged students for two-week visits.”
o What is the situation in the rest of the country?
“It is a rapidly changing scenario. When we started back in 2007, there were only two or three science centres in Turkey. After only five years, we have reached ten. Now a new plan, unveiled by the government last year, will invest one billion Turkish lira (€428 million, US$555 million) to build a science centre in each of the 81 provinces by 2030.”
o Why is the Turkish government supporting science centres?
“Science education in general is now a priority for us. At the beginning of 2012 the FATİH project was launched to bring smart boards and tablets to state schools.”
“FATİH means literally “conquering” and makes me think of conquering pupils’ scientific imagination… Turkey is a very young country and we simply cannot afford youth unemployment. This is why we invest on scientific and technology literacy, to bring youngsters closer to the attention of future employers,” concluded Murat.
The FATİH project is promoted in collaboration with the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Transport and Communications, and will distribute IT education solutions to 570,000 classrooms in 42,000 state schools across Turkey. More information about the project is available from the English-language newspaper, Zaman.
Whilst some of the initiatives promoted by its government are highly impressive, Turkey’s growing economy faces a number of daunting obstacles if it is to meet its pressing need for a competitive labour force.
Reducing drop-out rates, increasing girls’ education and enhancing STEM education are the main challenges ahead, according to Çiğdem Tongal of Sabanci University.
At an inGenious summer school meeting in Istanbul, she highlighted the recent rise in the age of compulsory education – from 8 to 12 years old – as an important first step in meeting these objectives. In the meeting, attended by teachers from across Europe, she also pointed out that working in partnership with stakeholders and industry, and improving the quality of professional training are also key to reducing education inequality.
In fact, Çiğdem’s own Sabanci University has been playing a leading role in societal reform since 2003, with the Education Reform Initiative (ERI). This was launched within a network of public and private organisations, in collaboration with the UNICEF and the World Bank, with the objective of bridging the gap between public and private schools and ensuring quality education for all. More info on http://erg.sabanciuniv.edu/en.